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Coover, Robert

Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: Author, Theatre.

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(1932-    ) US author who has established a considerable reputation with his novels, in which Fabulation and political scatology mix fruitfully. His work could be seen to represent a Postmodernist intensification of the same milieu excoriated by Richard Condon. The Origin of the Brunists (1965) subverts the millennial fantasy tropes at its heart, as Giovanni Bruno – whose name echoes the historical Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) – and his followers await the End of the World; its sequel, the exceedingly ambitious The Brunist Day of Wrath (2014), engages ferociously with fundamentalist sects (see Religion) in its attempts to anatomize America, at time with a minute attentiveness to naturalistic detail, at times hinting a fantastic reading of the whole (see Fantastika). The Universal Baseball Association Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1968) also problematizes its Fantasy premise, the eponymous dreamer's creation of a Pocket Universe where Baseball can be immortally safe under the control of the proprietor, whose name can be pronounced "Yahweh" (see Godgame), but need not be. Pricksongs & Descants: Fictions (coll 1969) and the much later A Child Again (coll 2005) contain some stories and fables of sf interest. The plays assembled in A Theological Position: Plays. The Kid; Love Scene; Rip Awake; A Theological Position (coll 1972) include "The Kid" (Spring 1970 Tri-Quarterly) and "Rip Awake", the former featuring Billy the Kid (see also Westerns) and the latter Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle.

A Political Fable (August 1968 New American Review as "The Cat in the Hat for President"; rev 1980 chap) is a Satirical fantasy in which Dr Seuss's Cat in the Hat, dressed as Uncle Sam, runs for President, only to be skinned at the end in order to avoid an army coup. The Public Burning (1977) can be read as an Alternate History of the early 1950s, taking in the death of the Rosenbergs and examining Richard Nixon – a figure Coover also anatomized in Whatever Happened to Gloomy Gus of the Chicago Bears? (1987), where Nixon is visualized as Iron Butt, a great football player from 1937. Charlie in the House of Rue (1980 chap), in which a fantasticated Charlie Chaplin goes walkabout in the interstices between film and reality, is a Hollywood fantasia (see California), as is the material assembled in A Night at the Movies, or You Must Remember This (coll of linked stories 1987); the eponymous Pierrot-like lover protagonist of The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Director's Cut (2002) is only real in his various filmic representations, some of them wholly fantastic, and all of which can be seen as a cubist assemblage of descriptions of the ambivalent Utopia of Cinecity, the place where all these dreams and interrogations have substance. In Aesop's Forest (1986 chap dos) the teller of fables is destroyed by the Beast Fable animals he had created. The eponymous hero of Pinocchio in Venice (1991), an old professor, travels to Venice to find the Blue-Haired Fairy, and slowly reverts to wood, returning to his origins: the puppet within the flesh. The elusive wife in John's Wife (1996) is a kind of ghost. Briar Rose (1997) is a Twice-Told version of the tale of the Sleeping Beauty, while Stepmother (2004 chap) devastatingly incorporates a wide range of fairy stories in one tale of unremitting death and demolition, A Child Again (coll 2005) assembles an array of shorter Twice-Tolds [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], and Noir (2010) is a nightmarishly comic Parody of the form, involving intricate traversals of the magically deepening world Underground, beneath the City of night. Coming some time after Ghost Town (1998), in which a Mysterious Stranger is himself seduced by bespoke antics in the eponymous town, Huck Out West (2017) definitively admixes Coover's long and intricate engagement with the region (and the Western) in a Sequel by Other Hands to Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), with Huck narrating his hegira into mythic territories westward, accompanied by Tom Sawyer, with whom he plans to create a travelling circus (but Tom half-betrays him, as always, in the end, and heads eastwards into the Gilded Age of America); the story has meanwhile extended into the American Civil War, with Huck and a Native American teller of Trickster tales [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] embroiled in what seems an apocalyptic world. [JC]

Robert Lowell Coover

born Charles City, Iowa: 4 February 1932



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